GOP, Dems merge on I-94 ideas

Sixth District Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and other west metro elected officials were at the State Capitol on Tuesday, July 30, arguing for more lanes on Interstate 94.

Bachmann, Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, and I-94 West Corridor Coalition members met with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and spoke of a productive meeting.

“This is a bipartisan issue,” Bachmann said.

But Bachmann, Kiffmeyer and St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis expressed frustration over the I-94 lane project not being included in the 20-Year State Highway Investment Program, MnSHIP.

“Even the (Minnesota) National Guard is taking side roads to get through,” Kiffmeyer said of traffic bottlenecks on I-94.

Officials understand, Kleis said, the financial challenge Minnesota Highway Commissioner Charles Zelle faces. But to attract federal funding, the project has to be on the MnSHIP list, Kleis said.

Dayton said he hoped he had convinced coalition members that Minnesota needs a statewide transportation funding solution.

“We’re going to have to face up to that sooner or later,” he said of the backlog of federal and state transportation projects.

Currently, state transportation officials foresee a $12 billion funding gap during the next 20 years.

One funding vehicle Dayton and I-94 Coalition members discussed was Corridors of Commerce. Last legislative session, lawmakers approved $300 million in bonding for transportation projects along commercial corridors, setting a series of criteria to measure project worthiness.

A funding request from the I-94 Coalition would be “one of the more competitive ones,” Dayton said. Funding would become available next summer, he added.

Kiffmeyer and others stressed they did not expect to get the entire funding amount at once.

“We weren’t asking for it all,” Kiffmeyer said.

Instead, they’re looking to snag about $30 million. That could put additional lanes along 5 miles of the interstate from Highway 101 in Rogers to Highway 241 south of Albertville.

According to the coalition, this section of interstate accounts for more than 40 percent of the interregional corridor congestion. An additional lane in each direction would be a great investment, they argue.

The long-term goal of the coalition is to add additional lanes from Maple Grove to Monticello.